Creating new relationships with the Things we buy – Part 1: Making a product desirable
Desirability of a product – really wanting or feeling like you need something – is primarily about personal preference. It can be based on a gut feeling, repetition of use over time, recommendation of a friend, or on brand name.
So says J F Grossen, executive creative director at global design and strategy firm, frog design. The latter is very common today, with brands manufacturing their own products’ desirability and spending billions of euros to tell you that you will like it.
Tomorrow, desirability of products will be more about the relationship created between you and the object. These relationships will take the form of a series of conversations manifesting themselves before, during, and after purchase. It will be built on a deeper understanding of each other’s needs from the real intelligence of the purchaser with the artificial intelligence of the product.
New technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) will give these products voices and stories, creating a relationship between people and their objects. As this happens, we’ll be able to create desire for a product in a whole new way. The products we design will sell themselves.
Emotionally connecting with objects
We generally have rational reasons for desiring a product; performance, durability, and fit often play a role. Emotional drivers such as shape, touch, smell, and taste also drive our decision-making. These emotional drivers are more powerful and sustaining than the rational ones, but can be difficult to manufacture.
But imagine if a product is given agency – perceived intelligence – and the ability to learn and adapt to our changing needs. The product itself could make an emotionally driven yet rational argument to be purchased.
One way to create that emotional connection is to bring anthropomorphism (human-like) or zoomorphism (animal-like) qualities to the form and interaction of the products we develop, design and market. Sometimes called “identification” and sometimes “self extension”, it can make us prone to anthropomorphistic explanations.
This creates a personal bond with the object, much like when we were children and believed our stuffed animals had feelings. Some people might be more naturally inclined to develop these responses; pareidolia refers to the increased tendency to see faces in inanimate objects.
Designing to appeal to our base desire to develop relationships with other people has been successfully done for years. In design, it’s referred to as “seductive anthropomorphism” and gives consumers chance to engage with the product and develop a more meaningful understanding of its purpose. Anthropomorphism allows consumers to project their own feelings and understanding onto an object, ascribing value to it rather than a list of features and functionality.
There are thousands of examples of applying human or animal-like qualities to inanimate objects through design. What’s new and still being explored is the idea of projecting anthropomorphism through interaction with the product. For example, Brad the toaster – a project by Addicted Products and Hague design research – uses social media channels to announce its dismay at not being used or its affection for those who do use it. It’s the interaction and not the form itself that makes it relatable, even desirable.
IKEA is a brand that is well positioned to bring this to a commercial reality, as many of its products are given popular Swedish men and women names. They are the masters of making commodity products of the everyday feel unique and special to the individual – as their classic lamp commercial directed by Spike Jonze shows.
Dating preferences, not purchase history
If we are developing new, more human-like relationships with our objects, shouldn’t we also change the way we find them? Creating meaningful relationships between products and people requires a more familiar and human method of matchmaking.
There are two main styles of dating services online today. The first is more traditional, based on profile matching through in-depth questions, gathering detailed information on how another person will fit your lifestyle – Match.com and eHarmony do this. The second and more progressive method, best exemplified by Tinder, depends on a combination of love seeking intuition (swipe left, swipe right) and trust that the system will make the best decision for you.
We trust in these methods to find a connection with another person, why not do the same with objects? It will make them more desirable, and make us feel like they are providing real value to our lives. That’s true desirability of products.
The author is J F Grossen , executive creative director at global design and strategy firm, frog design.
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